A teaching union has slammed the free Burnley High School as “a waste of taxpayers’ money” after it emerged the Trust running the school must improve its financial situation.
Jim Dye, the regional official of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) union was speaking as the Chapel Street Community Schools Trust was criticised by the Education Funding Agency, and given a financial notice to improve.
This money has been pulled from the wider education budget and has therefore been taken away from other local schools and pupilsJim Dye, the regional official of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) union
Burnley High School, independent of local authority control, is currently developing a new building in the town.
Sue Baldwin, director of the Government’s Academies and Maintained Schools Group, under the Education Funding Agency, recently wrote to the Trust with her “significant concerns about the financial management of the Trust”.
Mr Dye said: “ATL is shocked but not surprised by the very serious Financial Notice to Improve given to Chapel Street by the Education Funding Agency.
“Millions of pounds of taxpayers money has already been wasted on this Government’s Free Schools programme, including huge amounts that have gone into legal and management costs rather than learning.
“This money has been pulled from the wider education budget and has therefore been taken away from other local schools and pupils.
“The Chapel Street Burnley High School was never needed in an area that has got lots of good schools and surplus spaces, but it was imposed by this Government for its own ideological reasons.
“ATL has from the start had concerns about this free school which is located in such an unsuitable office building.
“Unless Chapel Street senior management work hard to turn things around and address their failings then it will be pupils and staff who will suffer the consequences of this financial mismanagement.”
Miss Baldwin’s letter to the Trust revealed that this was the second occasion it had been required to consider additional funding to help the Trust manage financial pressures. She added: “I do acknowledge the recent changes in Trust level leadership, but the lack of advance warning of this impending cash flow deficit indicates that the Trust does not have full knowledge and control of their academies’ financial positions.
“The basis for providing additional funding previously was that the Trust would secure a balanced budget for 2015/16. This has clearly not been achieved.
“Our recent Financial Management and Governance visit also indicated that the Trust has been aware of financial management control issues since October 2015, following a commissioned independent internal assurance review, but has not yet fully addressed these problems. ”
A spokesman for Chapel Street Trust said its five free schools around the country were growing rapidly and had been rated as “good” by Ofsted.
The spokesman added: “After four years of continual growth, the Education Funding Agency has asked the Trust to strengthen its financial systems in order to better sustain and support the development of our schools.
“The Trust accepts this ‘Financial Notice to Improve.’ Even before the EFA raised these concerns we had appointed experienced staff to ensure that these issues are addressed.
“The financial challenges experienced by the Trust in the last months have almost entirely been the result of the higher than anticipated
investment required to transform one previously failing school - a project that is already demonstrating significant success. This was a school in special measures.
“In financial terms, six of the Trust’s seven schools are operating consistently within their budgets.
“We are extremely proud of the tremendous progress across all Chapel Street Schools and the verified improvement in educational standards that we are helping to achieve.
“We look forward to working with the Education Funding Agency to ensure that our schools have the resources and support that they need to thrive even more in the future.”